RAFA BENITEZ today hailed Javier Mascherano's return to top form and claimed he can inspire Liverpool towards a successful push for a top four finish.
The Reds midfielder endured a troubled start to the current campaign and his performances dipped amid persistent interest from Barcelona and Argentina's troubles in qualifying for the World Cup finals.
His attitude was called into question on more than one occasion but, in recent months, there has been a noticeable improvement, both in the way Mascherano has played and his demeanour around Melwood.
It has left Benitez confident that the 25-year-old's best is still to come and, with the Reds heading into a crucial week which sees them play Unirea Urziceni and Manchester City, he is expecting Mascherano to be a big influence.
'Javier is showing on the pitch why he is the captain of Argentina,' said Benitez. 'He is someone who has a very good character, he is very positive and can inspire those around him.
'He is setting an example to the rest of the team. I am really pleased with the way all of them are playing at the minute but Javier Mascherano is a player who is doing really well for us.
'Look at the derby. He played in a different position (right-back) but he still managed to have a massive impact and everyone can see there is a big difference in what he is doing now.'
It remains to be seen whether Barcelona will again come calling for Mascherano in the summer but the likelihood is that the European champions will test Liverpool's resolve, as he has entered the final 18 months of his contract.